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Buddhism and Eastern religions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Gathering the Light" from the Taoist book The Secret of the Golden Flower, translated by C. G. Jung and Richard Wilhelm
"Gathering the Light" from the Taoist book The Secret of the Golden Flower, translated by C. G. Jung and Richard Wilhelm

Buddhism has interacted with several Eastern religions such as Taoism, Shinto and Bon since it spread from the Indian subcontinent during the 2nd century AD.

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The story of the Buddha’s life, like all of Buddhism, is a story about confronting suffering. He was born between the sixth and fourth century B.C., the son of a wealthy king in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal. It was prophesied that the young Buddha — then called Siddhartha Gautama — would either become the emperor of India or a very holy man. Since Siddhartha’s father desperately wanted him to become the former, he kept the child isolated in a palace. Young Gautama had every imaginable luxury: jewels, servants, lotus ponds, even beautiful dancing women. For 29 years, Gautama lived in bliss, protected from the smallest misfortunes of the outside world But then, he left the palace for short excursions. What he saw amazed him: first he met a sick man, then an aging man, and then a dying man. show these kind of people in India—add them to the same image one by one He was astounded to discover that these unfortunate people represented normal—indeed, inevitable—parts of the human condition that would one day touch him, too. Horrified and fascinated, Gautama made a fourth trip outside the palace walls—and encountered a holy man, who had learned to seek spiritual life in the midst of the vastness of human suffering. Inspired by the holy man, Gautama left the palace for good. He tried to learn from other holy men. He almost starved himself to death by avoiding all physical comforts and pleasures, as they did. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it did not bring him solace from suffering. Then he thought of a moment when he was a small boy: sitting by the river, he’d noticed that when the grass was cut, the insects and their eggs were trampled and destroyed. As a child, he’d felt a deep compassion for the tiny insects. Reflecting on his childhood compassion, Gautama felt a profound sense of peace. He ate, meditated, and finally reached the highest state of enlightenment: Nirvana It refers to the “blowing out” of the flames of desire. With this, Gautama had become the Buddha, “the awakened one”. The Buddha awoke by recognising that all of creation, from distraught ants to dying human beings, is unified by suffering. Recognising this, the Buddha discovered how to best approach suffering. First, one shouldn’t bathe in luxury, nor abstain from food and comforts altogether. Instead, one ought to live in moderation . The Buddha called this the middle way This allows for maximal concentration on cultivating compassion for others and seeking enlightenment Next, the Buddha described a path to transcending suffering called The four noble truths The first noble truth is the realisation that first prompted the Buddha’s journey: that there is suffering and constant dissatisfaction in the world. The second is that this suffering is caused by our desires. As the Buddha said, “attachment is the root of all suffering.” The third truth is that we can transcend suffering by removing or managing these desires. The Buddha thus made the remarkable claim that we must change our outlook, not our circumstances. We are unhappy not because we don’t have enough money, love or status but because we are greedy, vain, and insecure. By re-orienting our mind we can grow to be content. The people become happier—superimpose smiles or use a second image of their face With the correct behaviour and what we now term a mindful attitude, we can also become better people. We can invert negative emotions and states of mind, turning ignorance into wisdom, anger into compassion, and greed into generosity. The fourth and final noble truth the Buddha uncovered is that we can learn to move beyond suffering through what he termed the noble eightfold path. The eightfold path involves a series of aspects of behaving “right” and wisely: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. What strikes the western observer is the notion that wisdom is a habit, not merely an intellectual realisation. One must exercise one’s nobler impulses on a regular basis, as one would train a limb. The moment of understanding is only one part of becoming a better person. After his death, The Buddha’s followers collected his “sutras” (sermons or sayings) into scripture, and developed texts to guide followers in meditation, ethics, and mindful living. The monasteries that had developed during the Buddha’s lifetime grew and multiplied, throughout China and East Asia. For a time, Buddhism was particularly uncommon in India itself, and only a few quiet groups of yellow-clad monks and nuns roamed the countryside, meditating quietly in nature. But then, in the 3rd century B.C., an Indian king named Ashoka grew troubled by the wars he had fought and converted to Buddhism. He sent monks and nuns far and wide to spread the practice. Buddhist spiritual tradition spread across Asia and eventually throughout the world. Buddha’s followers divided into two main schools: Theravada Buddhism which colonised Southeast Asia, and Mahayana Buddhism which took hold in China and Northeast Asia. Today, there are between a half and one and a half billion Buddhists in both East and West following the Buddha’s teachings and seeking a more enlightened and compassionate state of mind. Intriguingly, the Buddha’s teachings are important regardless of our spiritual identification. Like the Buddha, we are all born into the world not realising how much suffering it contains, and unable to fully comprehend that misfortune, sickness, and death will come to us too. As we grow older, this reality often feels overwhelming, and we may seek to avoid it altogether. But the Buddha’s teachings remind us of the importance of facing suffering directly. We must do our best to liberate ourselves from the grip of our own desires, and recognise that suffering can be viewed as part of our common connection with others, spurring us to compassion and gentleness.


The relationships between Taoism and Buddhism are complex, as they influenced each other in many ways while often competing for influence. Taoism in its early form was a mixture of early mythology, folk religion, and Taoist philosophy. The arrival of Buddhism forced Taoism to renew and restructure itself into a more organized religion, while addressing similar existential questions raised by Buddhism. Early Buddhism was sometimes seen as a kind of foreign relative of Taoism and its scriptures were often translated into Chinese with Taoist vocabulary. Chan Buddhism in particular holds many beliefs in common with philosophical Taoism.[1]

Daoist (Taoist) simplicity stimulated Chan's abandonment of Buddhist theory and was accompanied by another traditional Daoist feature—the emphasis on total absorption in practice of a highly cultivated skill.[2]

The coexistence of Chinese Buddhism and Taoism has also resulted in various Buddhist deities being adopted into the Taoist pantheon, and vice versa. For example, in Taoism, the Chinese Buddhist deva and Bodhisattva Marici is often syncretized with the Taoist goddess Doumu, who is regarded as the personification of the Big Dipper as well as the feminine aspect of the cosmic God of Heaven.[3] In another example, the Taoist god of war and fraternity, Guan Yu, has been adopted by Buddhism and he is widely venerated as Sangharama Bodhisattva (伽蓝菩萨; 伽藍菩薩; Qiélán Púsà), a Bodhisattva or deva who serves as a dharmapala of Buddhist monasteries. According to Buddhist legends, in 592, the spirit of Guan Yu manifested himself one night before the Chan master Zhiyi and requested the master to teach him about the dharma. After receiving Buddhist teachings from the master, Guan Yu took refuge in the triple gems and also requested the Five Precepts, making a vow to become a guardian of temples and the dharma. The syncretism between Chinese Esoteric Buddhism and Taoism was particularly extensive.[4] For instance, the nine-fold configuration of the Mandala of the Two Realms in Zhenyan and Shingon Buddhism was influenced and adopted from the Taoist Lo Shu Square and the I Ching.[5]


Confucianism in particular raised fierce opposition to Buddhism in early history, principally because it perceived Buddhism to be a nihilistic worldview, with a negative impact on society at large. "The Neo-Confucianists had therefore to attack Buddhist cosmological views by affirming, in the firstplace, the reality and concreteness of the universe and of man."[6]


Before Prince Shotoku made Buddhism the national religion of Japan, many opposed the integration of Buddhism into Japan. Once this forced integration occurred, Japan synchronized Buddhism with its native religion Shinto, resulting in a unique sect of Buddhism existing only on the East Asian Island.[7]

In the Japanese religion of Shinto, the long coexistence of Buddhism and Shinto resulted in the merging of Shinto and Buddhism. Gods in Shinto were given a position similar to that of Hindu gods in Buddhism. Moreover, because the Buddha Vairochana's symbol was the sun, many equated Amaterasu, the sun goddess, as his previous bodhisattva reincarnation. According to Helen Hardacre, by the Heian period, a theory named wakō dōjin (和光同塵) had emerged. The Buddha and Kami had taken on a new form as saviors of man, who "dim their light and mingle with the dust of the world". This not only relates the two religions, but demonstrates a marked difference in status between the two deities at this period in time.[8] The later Tokugawa Shogunate era saw a revival of Shinto, and some Shinto scholars began to argue that Buddhas were previous incarnations of Shinto gods, reversing the traditional positions of the two religions. Shinto and Buddhism were officially separated during the Meiji Restoration and the brief, but socially transformative rise of State Shinto followed. In post-war modern Japan, most families count themselves as being of both religions, despite the idea of "official separation".

As time went on, the Japanese became more and more accustomed to including both the kami and Buddhist ideas in their spiritual lives. Philosophers put forward the idea that the kami were "transformations of the Buddha manifested in Japan to save all sentient beings".[9]

In addition, Buddhism played an important part in the religious legitimation of Japanese emperors via Shinto.

It is noteworthy that the Sui were the first Chinese dynasty with which the newly emergent centralising Japanese state came into contact, so the practice of using Buddhism as an officially sanctioned religion would have been demonstrated to the Japanese as a political reality.[10]

The interplay between Taoism, Buddhism, and Shinto in China and Japan stimulated the adoption of the Chinese practice of state-sanctioned religion and religious legitimation through association with divinity by the Japanese government. The official implementation of the term tennō (天皇) to refer to the Japanese emperor is also widely agreed to take place during the latter part of the 7th century, as a result of these interactions.


When Buddhism was introduced in Korea, its temples were built on or near the shaman mountain-spirit shrines. Still today, one can see buildings at these Buddhist temple sites dedicated to the shaman mountain-spirits Sansin (Korean: 산신). Most buddhist temples in Korea have a Sansin-gak (Korean: 산신각), the choice of preference over other shrines, typically a small shrine room set behind and to the side of the other buildings. It is also common for the sansingak to be at a higher elevation than the other shrine rooms, just as the mountain itself towers above the temple complex. The sansin-gak maybe a traditional wooden structure with a tile roof, or in more modern and less wealth temples, a more simple and utilitarian room. Inside will be a waist height shrine with either a statue and mural painting, or just a mural painting. Offerings of candles, incense, water and fruit are commonly supplemented with alcoholic drinks, particularly Korea’s rustic rice wine makgeolli. This further serves to illustrate the non-Buddhist nature of this deity, even when he resides inside a temple. And yet, on the floor of this small shine room one will frequently see a monk’s cushion and moktak: evidence of the regular Buddhist ceremonies held there. Sansin may not be enshrined in a separate shrine, but in a Samseonggak or in the Buddha hall, to one side of the main shrine. Sansin shrines can also be found independent of Buddhist temples.[11]


Having both originated from the same place, Hinduism and Buddhism have shared India and influenced each other over centuries.

Both Hinduism and Buddhism originate from India but they hold separate beliefs. As Knott states, Hindus describe the origin of their religion as sanatana dharma claiming that it goes past human origin and can now be found in scriptures of the Vedas.[12] The Vedas, mentioned then introduce the concept of a caste system in order to reach enlightenment or moksha. The Brahmin class, which is the highest class, is the only class in Hinduism that can reach enlightenment, so through good karma and multiple lives through reincarnation, someone from a lower class can become a Brahmin and thus reach moksha/enlightenment. The caste system today still remains in place to help establish the Brahmin status and maintain a societal hierarchy which categorizes people.[13] Despite both being from India, the religions' beliefs about reaching enlightenment and the caste system differ. Buddhism originated with the Buddha in India, who then spread his teachings.[14] In regards to the caste system only Hinduism heavily relies on it. Buddhism, on the other hand, strays away from the caste system in their belief that anyone, not just Brahmins, can reach enlightenment no matter their ranking in the caste system. This differs from Hinduism, and today influences the relevance of the caste system in some societies as both Buddhism and Hinduism coexist in India.[15] As a result, Buddhism has spread past India and is mainly in Eastern Asia, while Hinduism still remains majorly in India.

See also


  1. ^ Zürcher, Erik (1980). "Buddhist Influence on Early Taoism: A Survey of Scriptural Evidence". T'oung Pao. 66 (1/3): 84–147. doi:10.1163/156853280X00039. ISSN 0082-5433. JSTOR 4528195.
  2. ^ Taoism and Buddhism Archived 2012-05-22 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Heguanzi (2013). The Pheasant Cap Master and the end of history : linking religion to philosophy in early China. Marnix Wells (First ed.). St. Petersburg, FL. ISBN 978-1-387-08107-3. OCLC 1005481319.
  4. ^ Orzech, Charles D. (1989). "Seeing Chen-Yen Buddhism: Traditional Scholarship and the Vajrayāna in China". History of Religions. 29 (2): 87–114. doi:10.1086/463182. ISSN 0018-2710. JSTOR 1062679. S2CID 162235701.
  5. ^ Orzech, Charles D. (1989). "Seeing Chen-Yen Buddhism: Traditional Scholarship and the Vajrayāna in China". History of Religions. 29 (2): 87–114. doi:10.1086/463182. ISSN 0018-2710. JSTOR 1062679. S2CID 162235701.
  6. ^ Early Neo-Confucian View of Chinese Buddhism
  7. ^ The Synchronization of Shinto and Buddhism in Japan Archived May 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Hardacre, Helen, 1949- (2017). Shinto : a history. New York. ISBN 978-0-19-062171-1. OCLC 947145263.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Shinto history: BBC Religions
  10. ^ Shinto in history : ways of the kami. Breen, John, 1956-, Teeuwen, Mark. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press. 2000. ISBN 0-8248-2362-1. OCLC 43487317.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. ^ "Shamanism in Ancient Korea". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2021-11-06.
  12. ^ Knott, Kim (1998). Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285341-4.
  13. ^ Leaf, Murray (2014). The Anthropology of Eastern Religions: Ideas, Organizations, and Constituencies. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-9240-5.
  14. ^ Harvey, Peter (2001). Buddhism. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 0-8264-5351-1.
  15. ^ Mann, Richard. "Material Culture and the Study of Hinduism and Buddhism". Ebsco Host. Retrieved October 1, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

Further reading

  • Arthur F. Wright, (1971) Buddhism in Chinese History, Stanford University Press, Stanford California.
  • Tang Yijie, (1991) Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, and Chinese Culture, University of Peking, The Council for research in values and philosophy
  • Christine Mollier, (2008) Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face: Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic exchange in Medieval China, University of Hawaii Press.
  • Fung Yu-Lan and Derk Bodde (1942),The Rise of Neo-Confucianism and Its Borrowings From Buddhism and Taoism, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

External links

This page was last edited on 28 April 2023, at 21:13
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